Friday, June 25, 2004

KEEP THOSE COTTON PICKIN’ HANDS OFF THESE: Ultra-luxury cruise pioneer Seabourn Cruise Line -- creator of groundbreaking Signature Series shore excursions that have been “appropriated” by competitors for years -- has raised the bar and lowered the boom. More than 75 new, optional shore adventures -- perfect trophy experiences for the been there / done that set -- are available only to guests aboard Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend. Featured are exclusive entries to select sites, privileged meetings, and assorted special-interest pursuits, with one-of-a-kinders including: Behind-the-scenes hobnobbing at Hong Kong's Cantonese Opera; a private meal in her Nile-side home with social activist Gihan Sadat, widow of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; limo travel to a Danish country inn where chef Jan Petersen will serve his menu from the film Babette's Feast; testing a race-equipped Ferrari on a professional circuit course near Venice; and shopping for ingredients in a Florence market for class at the Italian Cordon Bleu Cooking School. Offered on 134 cruises in 76 countries in '05 / '06, prices are from just north of $100 to several K. Early booking fares start from $2,298 per person, double, for an ocean-view suite.

AUTUMN SPLENDOR FORECAST: Since 1925, Tauck Tours has showcased "insider" tips on the autumn foliage phenomena. Travel industry legend Scotty Johnston, a company director for more than 40 years and a star foliologist, provides fall color forecasts on Tauck’s Foliology Hotline, (800) 214-8209. In September / October, autumn leaf lovers can get updates weekly, thanks to Tauck reps on the road. Scotty’s current view: "Autumn 2004 should be excellent! … Trees of New England are healthy, due to an old-fashioned, long, cold winter, free from damaging ice storms — and a cool wet spring." That’s where cruising comes in, when Tauck at Sea explores waters surrounding New England’s coastal towns. A 7-nighter aboard the 102-passenger Nantucket Clipper travels the Connecticut River, Mystic Seaport, Newport, Block Island, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and the Long Island Sound. The company offers $300 off per cabin on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4 sailings, where a 70-member all-American crew looks after guests.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

GIVE ‘EM AN “E”: After much ado trying to figure out exactly what passengers adore most about Love Boat cruising to better spread the word, Princess Cruises has hatched a multi-million dollar corporate branding initiative with a new tag line -- "Escape Completely " -- backed by ads, direct mail, brochures and online promos. The "escape" theme evolved after honchos determined that passengers love the line’s multifaceted product for life at sea, including lots of destinations, Anytime Dining, trademark balconies, and choice, choice, choice. The new blitz urges prospects to "Sail a thousand miles away from your daily routine," and promises "Life's little inconveniences, removed for your convenience." Ads have big photos showing life aboard, and small photo reminders of what’s left behind -- spilled coffee, no parking signs, and a rat running on a wheel. A large emblematic "E" -- a signature graphic on all materials -- ties to "escape completely" copy. The line’s 14 ships sail on 150 itineraries, calling at some 260 ports on seven continents.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

EUROPEAN SPICE: In yet another fun first, Carnival Cruise Lines plans Mediterranean voyages with extended port visits next summer aboard Carnival Liberty, to be the newest, largest ship operating in Europe. Eight 12-day round-trip sailings from Rome (Civitavecchia), July 20 through Oct. 12, 2005, include Naples, Dubrovnik, Venice (for a two-day call), Messina, Sicily, Barcelona, Cannes and Livorno. Following the 12-day cruises, the ship sails a 16-day transatlantic, departing Rome on Oct. 24 for Fort Lauderdale. Calls include Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Funchal (Madeira) and St. Martin. Under construction in Monfalcone, the 2,974-passenger vessel has 22 bars and nightspots, a huge health / fitness facility, a duty-free shopping mall, casino and four swim pools – one with a 214-foot water slide. Fares for 12-day sailings begin at $1,499 per person, double. The 16-day transatlantic starts at $1,099 per person.

Monday, June 21, 2004

MIAMI VICE: And to think it all started over a bag of marshmallows. After a spot security check, a teacher's aide from a Wyoming mountain town got hauled away in handcuffs from Carnival Cruise Line’s Fascination. She spent most of a day behind bars, because her fiance had left an unopened package of marshmallows out in the open last summer at Yellowstone Park – where food storage laws are on the books to thwart bears. Highlighting federal bureaucracy tangled in security concerns, her fine kettle of fish unfolded last Friday in Miami's U.S. District Court. A Wyoming federal court bench warrant alleged the teacher’s aide had failed to pay last summer’s $50 ticket. Her name wound up in a federal database. The feds cited her for "improper food storage at a national park." The woman, who teaches 4-year-olds in a Head Start program, told the court she paid the ticket via credit card because park officials had snagged her camp gear, refusing to return it until the fine was paid. After eyeballing the citation, U.S. Magistrate John J. O'Sullivan agreed her fine had been satisfied. "This ticket has been paid. This woman should not be in custody," the judge said, ordering her freed. When a U.S. attorney protested there might be "some discrepancy" between the woman's story and documents, the judge shushed him pronto, adding "seven hours in jail, I think, is a suitable punishment for leaving marshmallows out at a camp site." The judge then apologized to the woman. U.S. Immigration and Customs cruise ship inspections mostly focus on illegal drugs and other contraband -- not stale marshmellow disputes. Luggage and passenger lists are routinely screened, with heightened attention given to possible terrorist activity since 9/11. Two hours after the judge ordered her freed, the teacher's aide walked out of the courthouse to rejoin her fiancé, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned "FBI, Federal Bureau of Intoxication." As he recalled, the couple and family members had sipped hot chocolate around the campfire when last summer’s trouble started. He added the ticket was in his fiance's name only because her credit card was used to pay the fine. While in custody, the teacher's aide said she was photographed, fingerprinted, and subjected to catcalls from male prisoners to a point where she threw up and cried a lot. The couple was on a four-day Carnival cruise from Miami to Key West, Cozumel and back when the 6:30 a.m. knock for a “random” search came from U.S. Customs. No word on whether the couple enjoyed their cruise.